From the Skeptical Inquirer Special Issue “Science and Religion 2001”, Vol 25 No 5, Sept/Oct 2001.


BOOK REVIEW by Barry Fagin

The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity. By Lee Strobel. Zondervan Publishing, New York, 1998. ISBN 0310209307. 304 pp. Paperback, $12.99.  

As a skeptic who works alongside evangelical Christians on a regular basis, I'm often asked to read material not normally of interest to SKEPTICAL INQUIRER readers. The Case For Faith, by Lee Strobel, is an exception. Books like this are important for skeptics to pay attention to, though perhaps not for the reasons their authors hope.

Subtitled "A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity," the book is written by the former legal editor of the Chicago Tribune, by his own admission a former atheist and now devout Christian. The book is a painful read for skeptics, not so much because of its prose or because we might find its conclusions difficult to accept, but because of its dramatically different use of words and concepts from what we are accustomed to.

For example, when a skeptic reads that an investigation is to be performed by a journalist, the standard use of those terms suggests an impartial search by an individual using methods designed to separate truth from falsity. We would expect such a person to be prepared to accept any conclusion derived from those methods, and the assumptions made before starting the process to be independent of the conclusions drawn.

But from the very first page, it's clear this not what the author is about. Instead, Strobel begins from a perspective of evangelical Christianity. He "investigates" it by posing hard questions about Christianity and traditional theism to "experts," and seeing if some set of plausible answers to them exist. This is not an investigation in the sense that most of us understand it.

Clearly, Strobel asks the right questions. Chapter titles include "Since evil exists, a loving God cannot," "It's offensive to claim Jesus is the only way to God," "God isn't worthy of worship if he kills innocent children," and so forth. The "experts" he interviews, of course, are all evangelical Christians. Space prohibits a detailed discussion of the answers they provide. I think it safe to say, however, that while they are unsatisfying to skeptics, neither are they outside the realm of possibility.

But not outside the realm of possibility is very different from true, or even likely.

Throughout the book, Strobel wants readers to equate “not incompatible with reason or evidence” to “shown conclusively by reason or evidence”. Strobel, along with most evangelical Christians interested in these issues, uses words from the vocabulary of science very differently from how scientists use them. At the very least, both skeptics and believers owe it to the rest of the world to make that distinction dear.

Since the belief system Strobel espouses can explain everything, it is not incompatible with anything, and therefore the book is uninteresting on a purely logical level.

Why, then, is it important? Because of its intended audience and the way it chooses to reach them.

Throughout The Case For Faith, Strobel uses the rhetoric of journalism, evidence, investigation, and analysis to make a case. Why? Conventional theology has long argued that faith is beyond reason, and therefore unaffected by it. Why must a different case be made now?

Why is it so important to the author and his publisher that reason be used to support their faith? Perhaps their decision reflects a growing recognition among fundamentalist Christians of the importance of science, reason, and rationality.

For believers, this book is reassurance that they need not set aside their rational faculties to practice their faith. Are there a significant number of Christians who feel that way? Strobel thinks so. The book also can help evangelicals respond to rationalist attacks. Do Christians encounter many such attacks today? Strobel thinks so. For non-Christian skeptics, the book's primary purpose is to convert us to Christianity. Are we now a sufficiently important audience to write for? Once again, Strobel thinks so.

That the author believed his journalistic credentials to be of interest to prospective readers, that he chose the rhetoric of reason, logic, and investigative reporting to tell his story, and that he made a great deal of the academic credentials of his experts is evidence that fundamentalist Christians recognize how influential critical thinking and the scientific method are today. At a time when skeptics are often discouraged at the gullibility of the media and the poor level of science education of the average citizen, books like The Case For Faith serve to remind us that the other side sees things a little differently. For skeptics, that's truly Good News.

[Author note]
Barry Fagin is professor of computer science at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He is a member of the Rocky Mountain Skeptics, a Senior Fellow in Technology Policy at the Independence Institute, and writes occasional columns on science and critical thinking for Colorado newspapers. Fagin is a member of Temple Shalom in Colorado Springs.